Wed | Jan 29, 2020

Orville Higgins | Will Powell-Simpson precedent impact Williams hearing?

Published:Saturday | August 31, 2019 | 12:22 AM
Sprinters Sherone Simpson (left) and Asafa Powell head to their anti-doping hearing at the Jamaica Conference Centre on Friday, September 27, 2013.

About five years ago, sprinters Asafa Powell and Sherone Simpson were both given 18-month bans when a banned substance called Oxilofrine was found in their system. The two insisted that they did not knowingly take the drug. They said that they were taking a supplement called Epiphany D1 and it is from that supplement that the Oxilofrine came. They said that on the list of ingredients on Epiphany D1 there was no mention of Oxilofrone, and that it was therefore unfair to sanction them for effectively being ‘carried wide’ by the manufacturers of the supplement.

The case went all the way to the Court of Arbitration for Sports (CAS). CAS agreed that there is no way the two athletes could have known that the supplement would have contained a banned substance since it was not listed anywhere on the label. CAS then had the 18 month ban reduced to six months. I remember wondering, at the time, why they were punished at all. Given those circumstances, the two should have been completely reprieved. The two athletes never stopped there. They sued Dynamic Life Nutrition, the company that manufactured the product. Probably realising that the odds were heavily stacked against them, the company decided to settle out of court and Powell and Simpson were compensated with an undisclosed settlement.

Fast forward to 2019 and alas, a similar case has presented itself! Young sprinting sensation Briana Williams returned an adverse analytical finding for the substance called hydrochlorothiazide (HCTZ) in her system after the National Trials. Her legal team is now preparing to argue that the banned substance came from a simple over-the-counter medication called Pharma Cold and Flu, and that nowhere on the label was any mention of HCTZ.

Possible four-year ban

The case is now awaiting a hearing. If the Independent Anti-Doping Panel (IADP) is not convinced by the evidence to be put forward by the defence, then Williams is looking at up to four years off the radar. If they accept her story, then she could get away scot-free. The interesting thing is that the local body was still prepared to give Powell and Simpson 18-month bans even though both felt they presented a compelling case that they could not have known that the supplement they were taking was contaminated. CAS agreed with them, but while reducing their sentences, never completely overturned it. With Williams offering the exact same defence as the two veteran athletes five years ago, it is interesting to see how a tribunal would rule.

IT is a known thing in law that a ‘lower court’ is always guided by a higher jurisdiction. The rulings by a higher court act as some kind of template for the lower courts to emulate. With this in mind, are we looking at a six-month ban for Williams, assuming of course that the IADP believes her story? Could the IADP see the six-month ban that CAS settled on with Powell and Simpson as the precedent in a case like this? Will the IADP go for a more lengthy ban knowing that CAS could reduce it and leave them with a little egg on their faces? Could the local panel go the other way? Could they argue that since CAS was prepared to accept the story of the two sprinters then, that they can accept Williams’ story now, and allow her to escape without any sanctions whatsoever? Will Williams’ team sue the manufacturing company and get a hefty pay-day? Interesting days are ahead.